Summer Quest: Ocean Getaway

I have a thirsty fish in me
that can never find enough
of what it’s thirsty for!

Show me the way to the ocean!
Break these half-measures,
these small containers. 

All this fantasy
and grief.

-Jelaluddin Rumi, “A Thirsty Fish,” from The Essential Rumi (1995), translated by Coleman Barks

All summer, my husband and I have talked about taking a day trip to the ocean. I longed for my spirit to be fine-tuned by the rhythm and atmosphere of the ocean. Until a few days ago, it was beginning to look as though we wouldn’t be able to make the trip together since August is such a busy time for my husband. However, Saturday he came home from work and announced that he had arranged for time off and that we would go to the ocean on Monday. Only, it wouldn’t be a day trip; he wanted to stay overnight and have two days of ocean time.

We had only gone to the ocean once in our 12 years together – to Assateague Island, Maryland, known for its wild horses. I had gone there once before nearly 20 years ago, and it was a magical experience. I went with my ex on a virtually unplanned honeymoon, and we happened to be in the right place and ran into the right people at the right time and ended up camping for a night on the beach at Assateague for free. Listening to the rhythm of the ocean waves was heavenly, and I wanted to experience it again.

However, when my husband, son, and I went to Assateague two years ago, this was not the case. It was more like purgatory. The drive was long  – at least eight hours. Then we had to park and trudge quite a distance through the sand to set up our beach campsite. There was no shade, it was oppressively hot, and we were exhausted. And then there were the insects: horseflies, mosquitoes, and (worst of all) no-see-ums. We couldn’t sleep at all because of the latter and ended up fleeing at 2:00 a.m. in search of a hotel. After driving around for an hour and a half looking for something for less than $300 a night with no success, we finally gave up and got a room back at the first place we’d stopped. We slept for most of the next day. In all, we ended up spending about a day and a half on the beach – which was great except for the bugs – and vowed never to return. The long drive and having to set up camp in challenging conditions was too much. And nearby Ocean City just wasn’t our cup of tea, although many people love it.

Last summer, we planned a week-long vacation in Wells Beach, Maine. I put down a deposit on a cottage, and we looked forward to going to Maine for the first time. However, when it was just about time to go, we decided we didn’t want to be away from our garden for that long and cancelled.  

But this summer was different.

Sunday – the day before my husband wanted to leave for our extended day trip – I got online and made a hotel reservation that was surprisingly affordable. I wondered what the catch was. (Was it a casino hotel?) But it turned out there wasn’t one. And that is pretty much how our entire trip was. We were pleasantly surprised to the point of astonishment at how quiet the entire area was, how friendly the people were, and how beautiful it all was. At the beginning of the summer, I asked friends on Facebook to recommend ocean destinations that could be done as a day trip and knew immediately which one was right for us. It is in the vicinity of Mystic, CT, although I have promised not to disclose the exact location because it is not well known or touristy, and everyone we ran into there would like to keep it that way.

Basically, my husband and I were blown away by the fact that the ocean is less than a four-hour drive from us. And we didn’t have to go through trials and tribulations to get there or break the bank to stay overnight. Four hours after pulling out of our driveway, we were on the beach!

It was so easy that we vowed to do this at least once a summer, if not more. This is a life-transforming realization, and neither of us could believe that we’ve lived on the East Coast for our entire lives and have only been to the ocean a handful of times! I think we also held the impression that ocean beach communities, for the most part, are too built up and touristy to be truly relaxing. Now we know differently!

Although I brought along three books, I only spent about an hour total reading on the beach and could only digest a page or two at a time. Mostly, I just needed to BE HERE NOW and allow the ocean to work its magic. To gaze at the waves constantly rolling in, to fall asleep to the soothing rhythm of the waves and the call of seagulls, and to dream salty air dreams.

At the ocean, I didn’t have a care in the world. It was as if the waves erased everything except for the present moment – the relaxed sounds of the beach and ocean; the particular smell of ocean life and sunscreen; and the pleasing colors of sky, ocean, surf, and sand. Ocean bliss.

I watched smooth pebbles on the sandy shore being pulled into the ocean by the mighty force of the waves and felt it had the same effect on my mental processes. Being in the presence of the ocean, I experienced a force much stronger than my little mind and its concerns. The ocean pulled it all away, leaving me to focus on the tremendous beauty around me. To breathe it in deeply.

Standing on the sandy shore facing the immense ocean, I felt at the same time small and also connected with and part of all life, for the oceans of the world truly do connect us all – both in a geographical sense and via the water cycle. My water is your water; it is constantly being moved around and recycled, through us and around us. It reminds me of a loose translation of Rumi’s poetry: You are not the drop in the ocean. You are the ocean in the drop. (I can’t find a reliable citation but love this idea.)

When we weren’t simply relaxing and doing nothing at all, Jack spent some time balancing rocks

…and I made footprints in the sand and took lots of pictures and some video.

We ate dinner next-door to the beach, with the waves crashing only yards away from us the whole time. Then we took a walk along the beach at sunset.

The soft pastel hues hanging just above the horizon painted a sublime picture.

Our hotel was only a 15-20 minute drive from the beach. According to locals, it was a new, very nice hotel with a bistro and spa, and we had an oversized jacuzzi in our room. It was perfect. I was completely unplugged for the entire trip. No internet, and I didn’t turn on my phone once. In the morning, we stopped for breakfast at a small cafe next-door and were the only customers. One of the two employees there told us where to find the quietest beach, and we decided to give it a try. The beach is located in an affluent coastal village less than three miles west of the beach at which we spent the previous day. It offered a great, mellow atmosphere and a scenic lighthouse in the distance.

It was an incredibly beautiful place for my husband to balance rocks while I searched for tiny ones washed ashore by the waves and tried to collect them before they were sucked back into the ocean.

I think this arrangement looks like an angel:

When I returned from one walk, I found my husband at our beach site instructing an audience of four girls who were interested in balancing rocks. One girl stayed longer than the rest and was quite good at it. She was still balancing rocks when we left later in the afternoon.

After a blissful second day at the ocean, we stopped in Mystic, CT to walk around the downtown shopping district and have dinner before returning home.

We’d never been to Mystic before. I’ve always loved the name, and the town itself has a wonderful vibe. We dined at S&P Oyster Company right on the waterfront next to the Mystic Drawbridge, which was raised a couple times while we were there.

Though I am very particular when it comes to food, I had the best restaurant meal I can remember ever having! And then we drove home, in the direction of the sunset. It was an incredible trip from start to finish, and we realized that we need to make the time to take trips together. It really does make a difference. And the biggest thing we learned is that we don’t have to go far to have a truly spectacular, relaxing, and affordable ocean getaway!

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